Exclusive: Katherine Rundell on why Matilda would be battling to save the world from climate change

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In an extract from the foreword to a new edition of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, author Katherine Rundell imagines how Matilda would help against the dangers of global warming.

Matilda is one of those rare characters from a children’s book who not only endures, but who we also like to imagine as a grown-up.

What would Matilda be doing now? In 2018, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of Roald Dahl’s novel, publisher Penguin released three new editions of the classic, with each cover showing Matilda in different careers: as a world traveller, an astrophysicist and as chief librarian of the British Library.

Whatever she’s doing, Matilda continues to be an inspiration to girls and women the world over, including award-winning children’s author Katherine Rundell.

Rundell is the author of Rooftoppers, which won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the Blue Peter Book Award for Best Story in 2014, and her 2017 novel The Explorer was the winner of the children’s category at the 2017 Costa Book Awards.

Here, in an extract from the foreword to a new edition of Matilda exclusively available at Waterstones, Rundell writes about why she thinks Matilda could have saved the world. 

“I have always loved stories with a bit of undutiful chaos at their heart, and so I loved Matilda from the first page; from the first sentence. I loved the way Matilda went at life hell for leather, unswervingly. I was a medium-well-behaved child who longed, secretly, to create a little more havoc. So, for an eight-year-old, reading Matilda was a little like hiring a small assassin to do my mischief for me; I felt a kind of wild, marrow-deep glee at the episode with Mr Wormwood’s hat and the glue. The book had everything I loved: inventions, jokes, secrets, a little magic, a memorable and terrifying villain, and stories in which children triumphantly get the better of adults. And I loved, and still love, books that unleash language like a dog after a rabbit. Dahl’s books are full of words, real and imagined, to revel in – rapscallion, scrumdiddlyumptious, poppyrot; language that works like a kaleidoscope through which to see the world.

Matilda: Katherine Rundell has written a foreword for a new edition of Matilda.
Matilda: Katherine Rundell has written a foreword for a new edition of Matilda.

Matilda endures. So many books fall by the wayside as they age; I don’t think Matilda will, in part because Roald Dahl understood that, above all else, children can’t stand being talked down to. They bristle at being lectured, rebel at being offered a moral when they have gone hunting for an adventure. Dahl refused to do that: instead, his eyes looked round the corner of the normal into the deeply peculiar. And Matilda is a one-person revolution: her refusal to accept things the way they are make her a kind of visionary among children’s characters.

“I often wonder what Matilda is up to now. It’s possible that, like Roald Dahl, she is a writer of stories that ignite the imaginations of children across the world. Or she might very possibly be an astronaut, or a prime minister. But, now that Matilda is in her 30s, I think she would be even more enormously in love with the world than she was as a girl: and so, faced with the dangers of global warming and mass extinction, she would want to protect it. I think she would be developing a way to harness the weather to create energy. If we could collect it, a single bolt of lightning has enough power in it to light up a home for a week; someday a brilliant person – a person infinitely more brilliant than anyone who has so far tried – might find a way to gather and store that energy. My money would be on Matilda.”

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Matilda: The Original Story - Exclusive Edition, with a foreword by Katherine Rundell, is out now in Waterstones (Penguin Random House Children’s, £14.99).

Images: Penguin Random House, Nina Subin

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